Smith Legacy Partners
Belmont's Cushing Square will soon see over 100 new apartments and various shops and restaurants after Planning Board members unanimously granted special permits last Saturday to developers of the 186,000 square-foot development known as Cushing Village.
The board's decision came after a year and a half of push and pull between the developer, Smith Legacy Partners, and local residents who said the project was too massive. However, board members decided to pass the proposal after developers cut back on the project's size and scope this spring.
"I think this project will reinvigorate and revitalize Cushing Square and get rid of an eyesore that exists there," said Sami Baghdady, chairman of the Planning Board, over the phone Monday.
Cushing Village is slated to feature 115 luxury apartments, with a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom units. They will be rented out at market rate, save for 10 percent that will be affordable under the state's chapter 40B housing law, said Chris Starr, principal at Legacy Smith.
The development will also feature about 37,500 square feet of retail space. Starr said he hopes to work an arrangement to keep Starbucks, which is currently located in Cushing Square. He said he also hopes to have a small grocery store, a boutique fitness and health spa open to the general community, and various restaurants in the development.
"This is an all-inclusive lifestyle of one place to live, work, dine, shop and socialize," Starr said over the phone.
The development will also feature about 235 parking spaces, and other community amenities that are still being decided upon, Starr said.
"We’ll be providing competitive amenities similar to those in similar apartment houses, but with the extra benefit of walkable services and restaurant in the village square," he said.
Starr said he hopes to break ground on the project this fall, and have one of the three buildings done by summer or fall 2014, and the last building completed by spring 2015.
Starr said the project will also be a boon to the town: developers will be paying a total of about $1.5 million to purchase the lot and pay for related fees, and once completed, the town will see about $600,000 more in tax revenue annually, he said.
Baghdady said the project has already attracted retail attention from new restaurants hoping to set up in Cushing Square.
"I have sensed a strong revived energy coming out of Cushing Square, particularly with the business community there," he said.
The approval came after developers reduced the project from its original 225,000 square foot size, and agreed to keep two of the three buildings at three stories high - originally, each building would have been four stories - among other technical changes.
Residents were concerned the project's immense scope would worsen traffic, block sunlight, and negatively redefine the character of Cushing Square, Baghdady has said.
"It’s a large development by Belmont standards," he previously told the Globe. "Even as revised, it’s a large development."
The development's opposition frustrated developers so much that last July, Starr threatened to withdraw his application and submit a proposal under the state's affordable housing law that would take much control away from the town. However, he ended up making some concessions to the project and presented it again to the Planning Board in October.
Still, Baghdady has said that replacing the various empty storefronts and the hole in the ground - created as contamination from a previous dry cleaning business was removed - would be better than keeping its current decrepit condition, especially considering the proposal's new smaller scale.
Sue Bass, a Belmont Town Meeting member who spoke at a public hearing on Cushing Village last November, said although she thinks the Planning Board did well streamlining the project, she felt apprehensive about its construction.
"People will still be surprised how big it is, even though it is smaller than originally proposed," Bass said over the phone. "It's been very frustrating for many people that it took so long, but this is because the town doesn’t have a lot of experience with this kind of development."
"I am concerned about traffic," she said, adding that she hopes new tenants will use nearby public transportation like the MBTA bus routes. Bass said if the project failed to meet existing residents' expectations, future development of the town could be at stake.
"If the Planning Board has gotten this one right, there will be requests to do similar things in other parts of Cushing Square, Waverly Square, and Belmont Center," she said. "But if the Planning Board got it wrong, Belmont will do what is has done several times: it will repeal the zoning, which will then stop development in its tracks in Belmont for another decade or two."
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org